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LUNA Studies the Human Soul

Stepping into Velocity Dance Center this weekend was like stepping into a human soul. Candles, lights, papers, secrets, and dreams filled Velocity’s three studios from March 21-23, courtesy of Anna Conner + CO’s premiere of LUNA. The performance, an hour-long event split into two parts, offered audiences a glimpse of human fragility and cruelty.

The first part involved audience participation. Viewers were free to roam around Velocity’s studios, each of which contained a different installation. In Founders Theater, a woman stood passively in white briefs and a floral face-cover, her hands tied to the ceiling with a rope. She had a small note tied to her wrists which read: “I don’t think she wants to be up here anymore.” A pair of scissors dangled next to her head, ready for anyone to cut her ties and set her free.

LUNA Photo by Alex Garland
Photo by Alex Garland

In the Steward studio, Conner + CO created an installation about dreams. White strings of lights zig-zagged from the ceiling to the floor like an obstacle course. In a corner, amongst scattered paper flowers, dancer Autumn Tselios moved slowly, contemplatively. Atmospheric sounds filled the room, with some occasional mumbled words. Small strips of paper scattered the floor, each with dreams and wishes written on it: “I wanted to be happy,” “I wanted to be inspired,” “I wanted to be a wife.” In a different corner, a woman in a floral face-cover sat cradling a music box. Her shoulders and neck were tied to a handrail.

As Tselios moved from one spot in the room to another, the audience watched her or looked around to read the scattered papers. Tselios’ movements were supple, clean, and graceful. Throughout, her focus went beyond her environment and back into herself, as though calculating her motions, her dreams, her life. The atmosphere here was touching, like watching a little girl dream about her future. She was innocent, fragile, and unknowing, but she was also hopeful.

Next door in the Kawasaki studio, smoke filled the darkened room. Wires hung from the ceiling, and two dancers in white, Anna Conner and Julia Cross, performed a duet. Their movements were primal, tender, and sisterly. Audience members walked around the two dancers and explored the room with flashlights. Here, small slips of paper were also scattered, but they contained secrets rather than dreams. They ranged from the trivial (being attracted to a friend’s lover) to the brutal (harming another human being). Atmospheric sounds also filled the room, adding to the mystery that the fog and the secrets provided. In another corner was a ceiling-high plastic bag container that stored balloons that audiences were invited to pop. The message inside each balloon read simply, “Thank You!”

Autumn Tselios in LUNA
Photo by Alex Garland

The room provided a curious sensation. The sets, the dancers, the props, and the environment embodied that space in the corner if your mind, the one you rarely visit because it stores primal, secret thoughts you’d rather push out of your head. The room made you think that if these secrets were the dancers’ innermost thoughts, then what would yours be, and how would you deal with them?

Performance art and dance installations rarely provide an opportunity for the audience to add their own experiences to the work, but the environments that Conner conjured did. She created inclusive, relatable worlds that spoke to the human soul, no matter where that soul came from or what it had gone through.

After half an hour passed, the bells rang and the audience came back to Founders studio. The woman with her hands tied had been set free, and Cross, Conner, and Tselios entered the space. Their movements ranged from uniform steps and weight shifts to frantic gestures. Moments of unison would break into a duet and a solo. Throughout the piece, the tension between the three changed from loving and tender to competitive and vicious, sometimes even misogynistic. The three became friends, sisters, or even lovers willing to double-cross one another to come out on top.

Anna Conner + CO in LUNA  Photo by Alex Garland
Anna Conner + CO in LUNA
Photo by Alex Garland

Most of the images Conner conjured in her installations exuded purity and fragility. Her chosen materials—white paper, white balloons, flowers, and pastel-colored tissue paper—could all be easily destroyed or soiled. Yet during the dance, that delicacy was juxtaposed with whiffs of cruelty and ruthlessness. In a powerful moment, Cross and Tselios lowered Conner to the ground and proceeded to step all over her. Another vivid motif appeared when one dancer knelt, arching her back while another hovered over her. They kissed and continued to dance a tender duet. Or a vicious one.

Despite inconsistencies in the transitions between the sound scores, Conner + CO managed to eloquently capture the human spirit and its bitter reality: deep down, everyone has secrets, everyone has dreams, and most of all, everyone can be ruthless.

LUNA ran March 21-23 at Velocity Dance Center. For more information on Anna Conner + CO, visit their website.